Taming the Wild Elephant of Mind

Elephant for Mindfulness post

Image courtesy of Farnoosh Brock, www. prolific living.com

When was the last time you misplaced your car keys or another item? How about the last time you missed taking a turn while driving?

Confession:  I spent the last day looking for my checkbook which was sitting on the nightstand next to my bed.

So much time is wasted, special opportunities missed, and unnecessary problems created through mindlessness.

As you can see from these examples, mindfulness has many practical benefits.  It will save you time, cut down on unnecessary hassles, and may even help you tune into an extraordinary opportunity.  On top of that, it brings a greater sense of calm, clarity, and confidence into every aspect of your life.

There are 1,140 minutes in a day.   Have you ever considered how many you actually spend in the present moment, mindful and aware?

A Few Pointers on Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the first practice on the path of meditation. It’s not the ultimate goal of meditation. However, without mindfulness true meditation will never arise.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean being overly concentrated. This will only bring more tension and stress. Ideally, mindfulness is balanced with watchful awareness and a relaxed sense of spaciousness.

How does it work? You place your attention lightly – not intently – on an object in meditation like watching the breath. Or on an activity in life like being fully present when you are eating, listening, walking and so on. At the same time, there’s a sense of watchful awareness that recognizes when you become distracted and lose the mindfulness. When that happens, you simply return your attention to the object or activity. The entire process is held is the arms of relaxed spaciousness.  That means you are mindful but not oblivious to the world around you.

Reflection – Taming the Wild Elephant of Mind

For this week’s reflection, I’ve chosen a quotation from the eight-century spiritual master Shantideva, which highlights the enormous benefits that arise from simply being mindful and aware in the present moment.

“If this elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness,

All fear disappears and complete happiness comes.

All enemies: all the tigers, lions, elephants, bears, serpents [of our emotions];

And all keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,

All of these are bound by the mastery of your mind,

And by taming of that one mind, all are subdued,

Because from the mind are derived all fears and immeasurable sorrows.”

- from Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Shantideva by Marion L. Mactics

With all these remarkable gifts, you can’t help but wonder why there isn’t a stampede on to learn mindfulness.  In case it’s not clear, the wild animals mentioned in this quote symbolize our wild and out-of-control emotions.

A Mindfulness Challenge

I once heard that the contemporary spiritual teacher Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche would sometimes give a pen to a student and tell them not to lose it as a form of mindfulness training. Now, I don’t know if this story is true but it sounds like a great experiment.

Why not experiment with using just one pen for a week and see what happens! If you take the challenge, please be sure to let us know how it goes.

There is so much more that could be said about mindfulness meditation. I will be writing more about mindfulness and meditation in the future. The main point for today is simply to to consider the benefits of mindfulness, and to take a peek into how mindfulness might help you.

After the checkbook episode, it’s clear I need to get back to my mindfulness practice!  It’s also healthy to have a sense of humor about one’s imperfections.

Speaking of magical encounters, don’t miss out on this delightful story chocked full of elephant facts, fun photos, and a love affair with a few gentler gray friends from Farnoosh Brock.

Is your mind like a wild elephant? How often does it go on a rampage? Do you practice mindfulness meditation?  Mindfulness in life?

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If you liked this article, please share it with others using the share buttons below.  Thank you and aloha, Sandra

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Comments

  1. says

    HI Sandra,
    I practice mindfulness, but believe me I’ve had those spending an entire day searching fro something that just been under my nose all along! Ha right….
    But i love how mindfulness has made those incidents less and less over time. A small example in mindfulness that i learnt from my mum- Whenever we were on holiday, dad would often spend a few days with us and then have to run back to work. So we would spend the holiday with mum and relatives. But he would call every 3 hours, and ask mum where a certain shirt was or a certain tie, or a certain wrist watch. My mum would respond in such specific detail like- the left drawer of the right wardrobe, right at the back of that drawer to the right corner! I would always tell her “wow ma, how do you remember in such detail?” She would reply, “just pay attention to what you do. You will never forget, nor need to remember.” Does it get any simpler than that..??
    Mindfulness is simple yet profound..and can be practiced daily. It makes living in the NOW so much more funnnn…. :)
    I take up thy challenge. I shall use but one pen all week and fill you in on where it travels…..if its not with me that is ;)
    So Much Love,
    Z~

    • says

      How can I not love this story, Zeenat? My husband can’t find his socks inside the drawer when they are usually laying on top and are a different color than most others? I love him to bits but he doesn’t pay attention – but then again, one morning – super early, I was making tea but couldn’t find my mug, I looked in every cabinet and drawer and every floor of the house, it was NEXT TO MY TEA POT! How can I complain about my hubby now?
      I love Sandra’s story – and I am glad everyone found what they were looking for, sooner or later.
      Love to you all!
      And thank you Sandra for the tribute to the elephants and for the link love!
      Best,
      Farnoosh

      • says

        @FArnoosh…hehehe..I think all our hubby’s are that way..and then one day they surprise the socks off us by being super attentive :) The many reasons we love them na…
        HUgs~

      • says

        Farnoosh,

        Your elephant looks so delightful here! Thanks for allowing me to use your beautiful photo.

        Thank you for another delightful story to add to the mix! We are all so human. But I do wonder if there is a difference in our brains that make it more difficult for me to see what’s in front of them. I know it’s a scientific fact that they listen less. But like you Farnoosh, since I fall prey to the same troubles at times, I can’t complain too much.

    • says

      Hello Zeenat,

      What a great story and lesson from your Mom! We make life much more complex than it has to be. Your Mom definitely had the secret to greater simplicity. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

      I appreciated hearing about your success with mindfulness. It’s true ~ the more we practice it the more mindful we become and life becomes easier.

      Can’t wait to hear how it goes with the challenge. I’ve been experimenting with this too. All my love to you.

      • says

        @Sandra, One whole day and the pen is right where it started…near my computer. I’m so mindful, I refuse to use it ;) But seriously, I’m going to bed wondering…where did I keep that pen, and then i remember aha, near the computer :) See that’s first day progress for you.

  2. says

    Sandra,
    I really relate to this – as I know how easily I can misplace things (like my shoes!). So this concept of being more mindful – I just see such good in it.

    …those wild animals…it’s time to tame them!

    I’m taking you up on the pen challenge, too.

  3. says

    With the busyness of our lives, mindfulness can be a challenged. Even to become mindful about being mindful is difficult – make sense?

    For me, I take five quiet minutes every morning. No television, no radio, no internet, just quiet so I can hear and listen to what is most important. After hearing my “marching orders” for the day, the volume gets cranked up again and off I go.

    Alex

    • says

      Hi Alex,

      Yes this makes perfect sense: “Even to become mindful about being mindful is difficult – make sense?” We spend most of our time lost in distraction without even giving a moment’s thought to being mindful and aware. Five quiet minutes every morning is a great way to bring you mind back home to yourself. That’s a great approach.

  4. says

    I won’t tell you the number of times my wife calls my cell phone so I can find it. It is usually in someplace obvious, but I just didn’t pay attention when I was putting it down.

    Mindfulness becomes more important as we age and is a important tool to getting the most from life. Frankly, I have found having to come up with blogging topics three times a week has forced me to be much more mindful of my daily environment.

    Your topic today hits home.

    • says

      Another good story, thanks Bob! I see I’m not alone by any means. What a great benefit of blogging – making us more aware of our daily environment. I like that. Glad this topic hits home. Thanks for sharing your cell phone travails.

    • says

      @Bob, You are just like my hubby…he is the same with his cell phone. My recent suggestion to him was putting it on as a necklace so he never ever has to find it again, nor make me run up and down searching fro it ;) ….only to realize it was right beside him under the magazine in the first place! ;)
      But youre right….coming with topics to write about on the blog is indeed and exercise in mindfulness for sure. See we are all very mindfull already @SANDRA ;)
      Much Love,Z~

  5. says

    What a great post and a great topic. I really appreciated all the wisdom and the advice you shared in this post. What struck me the most was the fact that there are 1140 minutes in the day and your question … How many are you actually spending in the present moment. It really drove the point home for me and I think this is a great question to ask ourselves at the end of everyday. The goal is always to live each day better than we did the day before and the more and more present we can be throughout the day the better. Thanks for sharing. Great, great post.

    • says

      Hi Sybil,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really like your goal of always trying to live each day better than the day before. Very inspiring. Mindfulness will definitely help make that possible. Thanks for your warm feedback and taking the time to visit my blog. All the best to you.

  6. says

    Sandra, look at the fun dialogue here – Ok I will do the pen challenge along with Lance. :)!!!
    Big hugs to all of you…..fun conversation indeed! It drives the point home so much better…..

  7. says

    This ~place your attention lightly ~ is beautiful. Mindfullnes is all about grace. There’s a line in the movie, The last Samurai, that I always reflect on ~ “mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy . . . too many mind. No mind.”

  8. says

    Okay, I couldn’t stay away!! LOL! :) Love this post!! Love the challenge!

    Hi dear Sandra,

    After I read this I thought I’m actually incredibly mindful. I’m laughing because until right now I’ve never realized totally why. I not only know where all my things are, but I know where all my husband’s things are. I can carry the same pen, pad, keys, watch, hair tie or whatever for months.

    THEN, I asked myself, “Why is it I’m like this?” Now this will sound funny, but the immediate image that came to mind was living, at one point, with so few things in the rainforest that they fit into one knapsack. I had only 2 pair of pants, 2 t-shirts, 2 socks, 1 sweater, 1 wooden spoon, 1 wooden bowl, 1 jar for water, 1 fanny back, 1 knife, etc. And I could NOT lose them because they were the only ones I had. If I wanted more it meant a long trip to town, which might mean winching, slogging through flooded creeks, etc., depending on what the weather was like.

    THEN I thought of people who live in developing countries who live their entire lives like this and sadly it’s usually not by choice (mine was by choice). These people cannot afford to lose *anything*. They might not be able to purchase it *ever* again.

    I have some friends that travel into impoverished countries, and they’ve told me how people would beg them for a simple ballpoint pen. Not the elaborate kind, just a cheap pen. And when given one they treasure it as if someone gave them a diamond necklace. Needless to say, they do *not* lose it. I’st prized and kept close and track of. I find that not only endearing, but very very humbling for me.

    We have SO MUCH in this country that can so easily be lost, thrown out, and replaced. We don’t even think about it. Imagine a pen, just a pen, and keeping that one “cheap” pen for life, or until the ink runs out. And imagine one step further, then, choosing what you will write so as not to waste the ink. Imagine THAT! Wow! That brings tears to my eyes and makes me see the wealth we live in, in excess.

    There are other levels to this that have to do with our survival, but this comment is already too long. LOL! ;) I can see I am going to have to do a post about this and link back here. How FUN!!!. Thank you dear friend; I really enjoyed this exploration, and the insights I garnered from it. Bless you and hugs, Robin

    • says

      What an insightful and moving comment, Robin! Thanks for the glimpse into the flow of your life in the rainforest and how this planted mindfulness into your being. From a survival perspective, mindfulness is essential too.

      I was so touched by your story of what it means for people in developing countries to have something even as simple as a cheap ball point pen. One that I would reject without even giving a thought to it, but would be like a diamond necklace to someone else.

      This is an appropriate consideration and addition to our mindfulness exercise for Thanksgiving week. I’m so grateful for what you have shared here!

    • says

      Hi J.D.

      I like that too – “mindfulness means not being overly distracted”. Can you imagine sitting for 5 or 10 minutes without being distracted at all?!

  9. says

    Aha! I have competition! Lance & Farnoosh and now RObin!! hmmm…..tough tough….have to pull out allt he stops!! ;) ohh sorry the pen…ooppss..where is it??? Naaa….its right here :) I’m still in the competition people to all those who are participating..
    Lots of love,
    z~
    p.s. we are all mindful for just trying :)

    • says

      Dearest Z, You are a RIOT!! I am sitting here laughing my face off! I am SO glad you are in the world. I am hugging you and loving you, all the way to forever!! LOLOL!! :)

      • says

        @RObin darling, Ok…now i’m giggling too….your laughing is infectious…hehehhe….
        Love you loads and loads…and maybe barrells and buckets too ;) Hugging you right back my soul sister. :) :) :) And darling..where is your pen???hmm hmmm???.. ;)

  10. says

    I thought Robin made a beautiful point about abundance, and how rich Westerners don’t have to keep track of stuff because we can always by new ones.

    At the same time, I realize again how weird my brain is. Due to my ADD I’m forced to carry out some sort of mindfulness. If I’m having an easily distracted day, I will have to rehearse in my mind what I am doing so I don’t forget half way through. For example, if I’m leaving for yoga, I will think “Fill water bottle, get coat, set alarm” over and over again. More than 3 items and I will have to make a written list.

    I try to remember where everything in the house is or I may never find it again. Even if it’s not put back in the right place exactly I remember where that is too. I got frustrated with my husband because he distracted me coming back from grocery shopping, and I had no idea where I put my keys. That means they could be anywhere in the entire house, like perhaps the freezer.

  11. says

    From big to small — Not long ago I posted something about the “mind kittens” tearing around my brain! Here is what I wrote (you can tell I was in a playful mood) –

    I have written before about training our minds like we train a puppy, with gentle repetitions and positive reinforcement. A trained mind is a happy mind, just like a trained puppy is a happy puppy. Or rather the owner of a trained puppy is a happy owner.

    But the truth is that most of the time, my mind much more closely resembles a kitten than a puppy. Several kittens. High on catnip. Tearing around the house in the middle of the night crazy kittens.

    One of the practices of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is right effort. I like the idea that I get spiritual credit for just trying. Heck, I can get credit for just wanting to try, as in right intention, another one of the eight practices.

    Perhaps if I want to try and make an effort to try, then one of these days, I might get the kittens’ attention long enough to be here now. Just for a second before they race off again.

    “If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.” –Pema Chodron

    • says

      Galen,

      Welcome and thanks for sharing your delightful and playful piece on “mind kittens.” I have two kittens so I know just what you mean. I enjoyed this immensely and love the Pema Chodron quote too. Thanks for taking the time to comment and leave your piece. I enjoyed it immensely! Humor comes in handy when it comes to meditation.

  12. varuni chaudhary says

    Dear Sandra,
    i started out reading your post thinking that my specs were in the case, looked around for them, checked the empty case at least 5 to 7 times and eventually found them perched on my head like a head band. ;-)

    i need the pen challenge real bad.
    shall update in a week
    v

    • says

      Hi Varuni,

      You made me chuckle! I know what you mean. Good luck and let us know how it goes. I already misplaced my pen today. It wasn’t far, but I didn’t know where it was so I did indeed lose my mindfulness!

      • varuni chaudhary says

        Dear Sandra,
        The pen challenge is going just fine, managed to hang on to it thru all the checking of copies in school and at home. i shy ed away from giving it to the children to use. So thats included in next weeks challenge.
        varuni

        • says

          Hi, I’m glad it’s going well. Bravo! I lost track of mine for a few moments, so I definitely lost my mindfulness. But once I found it quickly, I’ve been more mindful! Thanks for the update.

  13. says

    Ah, mindfulness.

    Keeping up with keys, cell phone, uncashed check and other such “essentials” was once such a challenge. My first reaction upon missing them would be to freak out because it always seemed to happen as I was needing to dash out the door to this or that appointment.

    One thing that has helped me is to catch myself before freaking out, and saying “What I seek is seeking me” or “Thank you Holy Spirit for leading me to my keys (or whatever.)”

    I’ve discovered that in most cases I had put these things in a very sensible place. It’s the freaking out that restricts blood flow to the brain and interferes with remembering that place.

    Another thing that has helped me is to have a backup placed in a strategic spot. Like my extra car key in my desk drawer. I almost never have to use it, but when I do, I know that I’ll find the original when I return.

    On occasion my daughter calls me when I’m away from home to ask me where she can find something in the house, I’m shocked to immediately recall where it is.

    Robin, your mention of how much easier it is to find things when you only have one or two reminds me of an article I recently read of a guy who is traveling the world with no luggage. After going through the security checks in the airport many times, I must say this idea has appeal, but I can’t imagine a woman being able to do this as easily as a guy.

    I have mastered sightseeing without a purse, just scaling down what I need that will fit in my jeans pocket. That is is so freeing. And it makes me think hard before buying anything because then I’d have to carry something.

    • says

      Flora,

      Interesting to hear the science behind freaking out and how it affects the brain. You have some great systems here. Thank goodness for my husband who makes sure we have back up keys and the like! That’s also a handy trick to be able to go sightseeing without a purse. It really makes sense to buy clothing with pockets.

      Thanks for sharing your strategies. I really appreciate your comment.

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